Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Who needs players? Who needs GMs?

Real-world game design theory

I've been thinking a lot recently about how to run a game taking the absolute minimum amount of my time. You see, I love running games, but more than that: I love seeing great games run. (Or hearing about them, or whatever.)

But I don't have any time for it now.

Most games take at least three hours per session more than the session itself, adding up to eight hours of your time per week, per game.

That's pretty hefty. Especially if, like me, you don't run most games. You run games that generally end in obsession for at least half your player base. I don't have that kind of time. I'm not convinced anyone does. It's the same problem that MMORPGs have: too many players, not enough team to create content.

Well, why can't we solve it the same way that MMORPGs can? Player-generated content?

At its gross level, there's an element of, "if they want to do that, they can run their own games". But that's simply not even in the same universe as what I'm trying to say. A game is more than just who runs it. It's the rules, the interactions, the inertia. I figure: why not make some rules, interactions, and inertia that can roll with only players?

My first attempt at this - Kung Fu the Card Game the RPG - worked middling. It had some brilliant moments. For example, I had said that the first three people to win would win the game. This was mostly to make people get off their asses and play, not to actually limit the number of winners. However, it was interpreted as a hard limit.

While I was away, they defeated one of the bosses, more or less forcing three people to win. However, they didn't want me to know, to keep me from ending the game. So they came up with an intricate scheme to not only keep me from finding out, but to keep everyone else from trying to fight the boss they had defeated. It was a brilliant play, and very much the sort of thing that, ideally, games will always produce. It was about seven players, working together with stunning precision and near-genius. Half my player base, united and playing without a GM.

That wasn't the only brilliant moment, or the only lesson to learn from. I learned a lot from that game, not least was that - duh - not every player wants the same thing from a game. Not only do players play at different speeds, but they also play different games.

The purpose of a tabletop sit-down game session is really to get everyone playing at the same speed. But I think a game can be created in which there is some kind of slack built in, or some kind of moderation of the passage of time. More accurately, I think I can figure out a way to guarantee player balance despite players playing different amounts of time. The only way to do this would be to have... heh... this is a bit difficult to describe.

This game would have to actually be three or four different games - for players with different interests. However, all players are present in all games. They are useful in all games. But they can only specialize in one game.

So, for example, if one of the games is a military game, one of the players might be a great general. The other players might be artists, or diplomats, or researchers - whatever. They aren't able to be good generals. But they can assist the general. They can upgrade, inspire, gather intelligence. They aren't "main characters" in this conflict - but they're playing a part.

In addition, even in-game, the games have to be... scoped... to allow for a weaker player to do things without being thrashed by someone who has played continuously. Without making the experienced player feel like he's wasted his time.

The conflicts need to echo through the game world. Automatically. Without a GM. If Anna conquers land somewhere, this doesn't echo just through the conquest game, it produces challenges and opportunities in all the other games as well. Masses of people running to escape, trying to get into other countries. The extermination of the cultural heritage of the conquered. The worries about expansionalist generals.

It has to do all this without requiring a GM, without requiring more than just index cards. No map, no chips, no exceedingly complex rules or tables.

So, strain your brain! I've got a few ideas, see if you can come up with some. Here's the requirements summary:

1) Game can be carried around in back pocket.
2) Game can be played without dice or other contraptions.
3) Game rewards long playing.
4) Less experienced players not made to face more experienced players directly except by choice.
5) Three or four very different play types to address different player types.
6) Resonance between different play types, echoes between game types.
7) Very minor GM intervention.
8) Much opportunity for player innovation and invention.

9 comments:

kestrel404 said...

Ooh, a challenge. Good.

First off, check out here:
http://www.nprime.net/forum/ultimatebb.php

It fits what you described EXACTLY, save for the fact that you need a few things to start (the Aberrant system rulebooks are a big help, and a 'net connection is a must, but other than that, pretty much as you described).

So, taking your requirements fully to heart, we should look at the kind of games that can fit into your rules.

1) Game can be carried around in back pocket.
2) Game can be played without dice or other contraptions.

OK, so we're limiting ourselves to paper, pencil, and player action. IOW, a larp, or possibly a diceless pen&paper game.

3) Game rewards long playing.

So every time you play, you should get something. But this 'something' needs to be obtainable without GM permission.

4) Less experienced players not made to face more experienced players directly except by choice.

This can be accomplished through system or plot, but I think a simple rule of 'you get no benefit from defeating someone less powerful than you' would be sufficient for this, and can be built into just about any system. Preventing griefing is more difficult, though, and would require much stronger rules. Instead, you would be better served by allowing it to happen, and kicking players out of the game when it does (requires minimal GM interference, as long as the punishment is noted in advance of the game. Also assumes a small (100 or less per GM) player base).

5) Three or four very different play types to address different player types.

I'm assuming you mean primary modes of play, rather than mini-games within a single 'more important' story. In this case, you'll want to have the interpersonal (role playing), the logistical (strategic play), and the tactical (roll playing) be independent 'games'. Thus you can satisfy each of the primary player archetypes individually in their own field of expertise, or in several.

6) Resonance between different play types, echoes between game types.

Here we start to get challenging. Building on my last assumption, we would have to allow good role playing to have an effect on both the logistics, and the mechanics, of the game. And vice versa.

7) Very minor GM intervention.

Not impossible, but this makes everything harder. With a GM to mediate, we could have a very flexible system. Without, we have one of two things: Either a very rigid and in-depth system that needs to take everything into account, or a player-democracy. I'm going to go with the latter, as the former merely places all of the work of the game in advance of the game, while the latter shifts the work of the game to the players.

8) Much opportunity for player innovation and invention.

Is built into the very idea of a player democracy.

So, there's the idea. Have a system based around the players' voting. If I've got time later, I'll come up with a suitable example system based on that idea.

Craig Perko said...

You linked me to a forum, not a faq or a rule set. :P

Yeah, my game idea has some elements of player voting in it, as well. It'll be fun to compare. :D

I also have a type of gameplay you don't have. :D

kestrel404 said...

What, I need to do everything? Fine, here's the faq (linked off the main page):

http://www.nprime.net/cgi-bin/forum/ultimatebb.cgi?ubb=get_topic;f=8;t=000299

The end result is that it's a giant player-generated-story-content machine. If you doubt how well it works, go to the Aberrant Fiction topic, and look at the amount of text generated in the past moth alone.

Craig Perko said...

Feeeed me, Seymour!

I'll look into it, thanks.

Patrick Dugan said...

"I also have a type of gameplay you don't have. :D"

My interence of which synchs nicely with my intended comment. Connecting play loops or modes together into an overall loop is a good idea, and implies that competetive play cannot be the primary play loop, only one of the constituent loops. Regardless of the context of your game's world, I would imagine four basic loops consisting of Conqueror (i.e. the general), Manager (i.e. a governor), Explorer (i.e. a scientist who "researches" new game elements) and mimic (i.e. the artist who plays the social dynamics of the other players and the in-game NPCs). These types synch with Bateman's catalogue of different play styles.

This supra-loop allows every player to be the "main character" and is self-perpetuating in that the Conqueror inclines to introduces positive feedback to the conflict, the Manager introduces negative feedback to the conflict, the Explorer brings positive feedback to the novelty which frames and/or fills the conflict, and the Mimic/Participant brings negative feedback to the novelty, essentailly giving new innovations "cultural" normalization. The term for the last play style isn't great, but you see what I'm saying hopefully.

Craig Perko said...

Well, I disagree vehemently with the "four kinds of player" model, so, no, that's not what I'm using.

To be specific, I made a game, then I cut until it was its core components. Upon thinking about it, I found that all the play types were incorporated in those core rules.

However, I have some... doubts. We'll see if it works out.

Patrick Dugan said...

I'm not saying people fit squarely into four pigeonholes, but rather individual play styles are made up of varying ratios of those four styles. And even that isn't an absolute dogma, just a bit of theory that might prove interesting in practice.

But if you've got an atomic implication of that kind of range, than its probably the same ticket. The idea is that novelty (which lends itself to collaboration) and conflict (the oppoiste) are both balanced by agencies effecting positive and negative feedback, and thus the player's roles compliment each other and perpetuate the content. Style is a variable in this scheme.

Am I hot or cold?

Craig Perko said...

Hmmm... bits of your statement are hot, bits of your statement are icy cold.

Remember, this is primarily a social game.

I will, of course, be sharing the rules for free once I finish them. Which, hopefully, will be tomorrow. They're not exactly complex.

Craig Perko said...

Errr... no guarantee that it'll work for anyone, of course. It's never been run before, although I'll give it a shot starting Friday.

It might work well as a GDC metagame, I suppose. It's that kind of a game.